US-International: Commentary on the power of language: the words "enemy combatant" were the verbal justification for torture
For the 2002-2003 school year, I taught Verbal SAT at Parker School in Waimea. Well not a very interesting subject -- preparation to take an examination the results of which would help or hinder getting into college. One day, I raised the subject of the power of language in our lives, and used the example of the words "enemy combatant". I asked my class why would we label the prisoners we were taking in war "enemy combatants". I explained that by using words other than "prisoners" or "prisoners of war" we sought to circumvent the application of the Geneva Convention and other treaties signed by US presidents specifically prohibiting the torture of prisoners.
One of the students then suggested maybe it is okay to torture these people since they are our enemies: why should we care. I explained that this was the whole point to the Geneva convention and related international policies -- that by agreeing to these protections for prisoners at war -- the world would know people captured would not be tortured no matter what the pretextual justification for doing so. I suggested that if we did not believe this was the correct policy we should disavow our commitment to the Geneva Convention, and join such other uncivilized nations that believe torture should be a politically justifiable policy. What is so sad, I went on, is that it was unlikely anyone in power would oppose this torture campaign.
I also asked my students to consider that if one day their children were drafted into a war, wouldn't they worry their children might also be tortured if capture? And if the U.S. tortures its prisoners,isn't it is more likely our kids fighting our wars would also be tortured?
From there we went on to discuss the word "terrorism" -- the base word of which is "terror". Terror is a reaction of a person or persons. So if we are at war with terrorism, we are at war with how people react to something real or imagined. How can we win against a war with a psychological state as the enemy. Surely the result will be the movement against us will spread, it need not have a leader, and it will be a un-winable political campaign.
At some point we managed to get back on track and study some words that were more likely to appear on the SAT, than the words "enemy combatant" and "terrorism".
Now that the US is admitting to the presidentially approved practice of torturing our prisoners in Iraq and Afganistan, we seek to justify doing so based on various arguments we thought inappropriate when relied upon by the likes of Nazi military officers and argued by Saddam Hussein. The following is a memo responding to arguments raised to justify our torture practices (which some say resulted in the death of 20-40 prisoner and at least one suicide by a US soldier unwilling to partake in these inhumane practices:
Truth 2 Power Journal
The Top 10 Torturous Lies of Liz Cheney
Posted by Vyan in General Discussion
Sat Apr 25th 2009, 10:53 PM
In this performance on MSNBC Liz Cheney, daughter of the Former Vice
President, was absolutely stunning in her delivery of rapid-fire
talking points in an attempt to obfuscate the fact that under her
Father and President Bush this country engaged in Totalitarian Methods
and War Crimes - and in the process still failed to protect America by
using false intelligence and false confessions to begin an unwarranted
invasion of Iraq.
In the following I take on her talking points one by one.
Point by Point...
False Claim 1: The Program was Widely Approved and Legal.
The first act by President Bush in this matter, on recommendation from
John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, was to deny that Geneva protections
applied to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. This temporarily invalidated
the War Crimes Act (18 USC 2441), but did not make Torture (18 USC
2340) Legal. This action was later overturned by the SCOTUS in Hamdan
v Rumsfeld which found that Geneva absolutely *did* apply, meaning
that Bush's original determination was wrongly reached.
Also FBI Agents threatened to Arrest CIA interrogators for their
treatment of Abu Zubaydah.
This conflict between FBI and CIA led to Director Mueller's pulling
all of his agents out of future CIA directed interrogation efforts. If
all of this was so legal, why did the FBI run like scared rabbits away
Several attorney's within DOJ and the State Dept dissented with OLC
memos which legitimized the use of SERE-tactics as legal interrogation
methods. THESE ATTORNEY'S WERE RETALIATED AGAINST FOR THEIR VIEWS. The
Zelikow Memo was ordered to be destroyed. Assistant Attorney General
Jack Goldsmith was forced to resign by Cheney's Counsel David
Addington after ordering the Yoo memos rescinded. General Counsel to
the Navy, Alberto Mora wrote a memo detailing the abuse at GTMO and
rebutting the Yoo Memos, he was forced to retire.
False Claim 2: President Obama and AG Holder have ignored evidence of
the program effectiveness.
Key information from Zubaydah was gathered by the FBI before harsh
methods were used, such as confirming the identity of KSM. Information
gathered after these methods were applied remain dubious and have
appeared to be false.
The actual capture of KSM came from other sources besides Zubaydah.
The Los Angeles Library Tower attack was thwarted over a year before
KSM was captured.
When asked FBI Director Mueller has stated that to his knowledge No
Terrorist Plots were thwarted using coerced information.
Lastly "It Worked" is no excuse - under the UN Convention Against
Torture which was signed by President Reagan and ratified by a
Republican Congress in 1995, which forms the basis for 18 USC 2340...
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war
or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other
public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An
order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked
as a justification of torture.
False Claim 3: These tactics weren't torture because they are used in
SERE in the training of our own troops.
SERE was developed in response to torture tactics used against our
troops in the Korean war by Communist forces. The techniques are
identical to those which led to the execution of Japanese soldiers in
WWII and prosecution of American soldiers in Vietnam. The Communist
used them to illicit False Confessions, not the truth. S.E.R.E.
attempts to prepare our Special Forces Troops for undergoing Illegal
Tactics used by totalitarian regimes, and is completely voluntary.
(UPDATE via Wapo: The Officers who run S.E.R.E. - Call it TORTURE!)
The difference between a voluntary program meant to protect our troops
and using those techniques on unwitting and unwilling detainees is
like the difference between a consensual act and a violent rape. It's
False Claim 4: Two of the people who were Waterboarded gave us
information that saved American Lives.
Yet again the key information supposedly gleaned from Zubaydah, was
the identity of KSN - however that was *before* waterboarding was
used. The key piece of information from KSM was the Library Tower
attack, yet that attack had already been stopped.
Zubaydah was also to source for our capturing Jose Padilla, and this
too occurred before harsh methods were employed. In fact it appears
that we got pretty much Bupkis from him once things got "heavy".
From the WaPo.
But FBI officials, including agents who questioned him after his
capture or reviewed documents seized from his home, have concluded
that even though he knew some al-Qaeda players, he provided
interrogators with increasingly dubious information as the CIA's harsh
treatment intensified in late 2002.
In legal papers prepared for a military hearing, Abu Zubaida
himself has asserted that he told his interrogators whatever they
wanted to hear to make the treatment stop.
Further, this isn't just about "Waterboarding" - Geneva prohibits "All
Affronts to Personal Dignity" and all forms of torture including
psychological torture. Exceeding this is a War Crime. Stress
positions, sleep deprivation, hypothermia and the exploitation phobias
and fears (dogs, insects) can lead to a psychotic break in the subject
(as may have occurred with Jose Padilla) renal failure, heart-attack,
stroke and/or death. Autopsy reports of detainees all across the
various theater's of conflict indicate that in 2005 over 40 detainees
had died in custody, largely as a result of mistreatment and that at
least 20 of those appeared to have died as a result of HOMICIDE, most
likely while being interrogated by CIA, Navy Seals and Military
False Claime #5: Our Intellegence Gathering and Nation has been hurt
by release of these memos.
Cheney refers to this Op-ed, by former Bush AG Mukasey and former CIA
Chief Hayden which claims:
Disclosure of the techniques is likely to be met by faux outrage,
and is perfectly packaged for media consumption. It will also incur
the utter contempt of our enemies. Somehow, it seems unlikely that the
people who beheaded Nicholas Berg and Daniel Pearl, and have tortured
and slain other American captives, are likely to be shamed into giving
up violence by the news that the U.S. will no longer interrupt the
sleep cycle of captured terrorists even to help elicit intelligence
that could save the lives of its citizens.
This claim is directly contradicted by the in-the-field experience of
interrogator Matthew Alexander who was able to establish a rapport
with an Iraqi insurgent within a few hours and managed to use that
information to take down Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the head of AQI.
I refused to participate in such (brutal) practices, and a month
later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was
assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology --
one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural
understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out
information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and
I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not
classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the
way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our
enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal
investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual
permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our
efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.
Exactly what Cheney, Mukasey and Hayden claim won't work - Does Work!
Further, what they claim is "so effective" has according Alexander
directly led to the death of American soldiers.
I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked
there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and
Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting
fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings
in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also
involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.
It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and
casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who
joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number
of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will
never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to
the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that
torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count
American soldiers as Americans.
False Claim #6: The Techniques were limited and carefully controlled
The clear goal of using doctors and psychiatrist during the
interrogation process was not to keep them from being in discomfort,
it was clearly to prevent them from dying too quickly so that the
interrogations could continue on and on and on. Far from being
Limited, KSM was waterboarded 183 Times within 30 days and Zubaydah
over 83 times. Besides according to Yoo, the only way it could be
"torture" is if some of them actually did - DIE. (Which some did!)
False Claim #7: The Program had Broad-based Support within the Higher-
ups of the Administration, including all members of the National
Not if you count Secretary of State Colin Powell, the only member of
the Bush NSC with Military experience, who strongly opposed
invalidating the Geneva Conventions as did numerous members of the
False Claim #8: These techniques were done to our own people (via
S.E.R.E.) and they were not "Tortured".
S.E.R.E. was developed from Torture done to our own people by the
communists as mentioned above, but a review of CIA prisons by the
International Red Cross, which is the entity empowered by Geneva to
identify torture, clearly shows - We Tortured Them.
The Red Cross found that detainees were held for up to four years
in secret prisons, were frequently made to stand for several days in
positions evidently intended to cause pain, and were threatened with
"electric shocks, infection with HIV, sodomy of the detainee and ...
being brought close to death."
This was also confirmed by Military Judge Susan Crawford.
We tortured Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first
interview since being named convening authority of military
commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007.
“His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I
did not refer the case” for prosecution. <...>
False Claim #9: Revealing these techniques will allow our enemies to
train to withstand them.
First off, if the techniques are so effective - how can you train to
withstand them? Further, since the techniques have been effectively
banned not only by Obama's adoption of the Army Field Manual for the
CIA, but also the Detainee Treatment Act - why should it matter what
they train for, when we aren't using these techniques anymore anyway?
False Claim #10: Al Qeada doesn't follow Geneva so why should we?
Geneva doesn't require that those you are fighting against, also abide
by Geneva - it applies to the actions of the signers, not the actions
of the non-signatories. Also, Al-Qeada might not be the only enemy we
ever face in the future, and if we can choose not to abide by Geneva
just because we don't feel like it anymore - what is there to stop
anyone else from doing the exact same thing, including current
signatories? Future despots can and *will* use Cheney-esque argument
to mistreat and abuse our soldiers and the soldiers of our allies, and
because we've abdicated our authority on the matters, there's little
we can do to stop it other than to say "Stop" and look ridiculous.
All taken together this is a devastating array of lies at worst, and
deluded denial of facts and truth at best which has helped enable and
continue a world-wide atrocity. It can't be allowed to stand, any
repetition of these baseless talking points need to be taken down and
taken down Hard.
Update: Bonus False Claim (From Following Section of O'Donnel
Interview: That the events at Abu Ghraib were in no way connected to
changes made in Bush Policy.
As shown by the ACLU's Torture Timeline.
Following Bush's determination that "Geneva Doesn't Apply" and various
memos from Gonzales, Yoo and Bybee authorized and justifyed the use of
a variety of harsh interrogation methods which were first tested on
Zubaydah in Thailand, which were then exported in response to requests
from the commanders at GTMO. Following that request in Dec of 2002
SECDEF Rumsfeld authorized new techniques such as hooding, stress
positions, nudity, the use of phobias, dogs, sensory deprivation,
environmental controls (hypothermia), sexual humiliation as a way to
"soften up" detainees.
On that memo Rumsfeld handwrote..."I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why
is standing limited to 4 hours?" Rumsfeld used a "standing desk" for
doing his work, the problem with his argument is that he has freedom
to move and shift positions, but in a standing stress position the
subjects movements are limited which can over the coarse of time
induce renal failure and death. That's why the 4-hour limit.
In January of 2003 the commander at Bagram AFB, Afghanistan officially
implemented the new Rumsfeld's techniques going far beyond the Army
Field Manual, which is written to be consistent with Geneva. This
ultimately results in the death of several detainees (A clear
violation of even the "Bybee Standard").
In August of 2003 on recommendations from Lt. Gen Sanchez, Rumsfeld
sent the commander of Guantanamo (Gen. Miller) to Abu Ghraib to Gitmo-
ize it. The new commander removed the authority of the standard base
commander Gen. Kaprinski over the "Hard Site" and positions the MP's
handling prisoners there under the command of Military Intelligence,
then proceeded to implement The same tactics Rumsfeld had previously
approved for GITMO and Bagram
The pictures that we all saw at Abu Ghraib, the hooding, the nudity,
and stress positions were all authorized by Rumsfeld and exported to
the Hard Site on his orders. The argument has long been that this
wasn't an "Intelligence Mission" because those who were mistreated
clearly were not high-value members of al Qaeda, but using his sources
journalist Sy Hersh (who first broke the Abu Ghraib story) has found
the explanation for all this. In his book "Chain of Command" he argues
that this treatment was intended to be used a s blackmail (hence all
the pictures and photos) against low-value targets who would them be
released and coerced into becoming spies against the insurgency.
The original idea behind the sexually humiliating photos taken at
Abu Ghraib, Hersh said he had heard, was to use them as blackmail so
that the newly released prisoners - many of whom were ordinary Iraqi
thieves or even civilian bystanders rounded up in dragnets - would act
as informants. "We operate on guilt, operate on shame," Hersh
explained. "The idea of photographing an Arab man naked and having him
simulate homosexual activity, and having an American GI woman in the
photographs, is the end of society in their eyes."
Abu Ghraib was no boating accident, it was a Covert Op.
This is why even in while putting together the Taguba Report,
investigators into Abu Ghraib were prohibited from looking at the
actions and motivations of higher-ups, and instead told to focus on
scapegoats like Grainer and England who were for the most part only
doing what Un-ranked Military Intelligence Officers had instructed
them to do.
^A melodious thrush and some other residents from Waimea